“But I want my Auntie R to read me a story,” Tadpole cries.
I feel another of her little tantrums coming on. We seem to be going through a particularly wilful phase, and a typical exchange tends to involve me patiently explaining why something she wants can’t actually happen right now, and Tadpole replying “but I WANT TO!” approximately fifty times. It usually ends in tears and “time out”, whereby I shut her in the bedroom and keep repeating that she can come out when she’s ready to calm down and be reasonable. I thought the cycle might be broken while we were staying with my folks, but no such luck. Some holiday this is turning out to be.
The silver lining is that I’ve been able to get quite a bit of reading done while sitting outside her bedroom door, listening with one ear to make sure she is not wreaking revenge by shredding a box of tissues or writing on the wallpaper with marker pens.
Tadpole’s latest protest, however, is going to require very careful handling indeed. Auntie R, Tadpole’s favourite person in the world, was admitted to hospital while Tadpole and I were out visiting a friend of mine.
“Darling,” I begin, wanting her to understand, without being unduly traumatised. “Your Auntie R is poorly. She would love to read you a story, but she had to go to the hospital to get better.” My youngest sister, doubled up with stomach pains, has suspected gallstones and is laid up, connected to various tubes, awaiting the results of various tests and a possible operation. Luckily, she was off work at the time, staying with my parents so that she could spend time with her favourite niece during our stay in England. At least this means that she is in a hospital close to home, and my parents and I are on hand.
“But,” Tadpole replies, in the whining voice I dread, “if she’s poorly, why don’t we give her some magic pink medicine*? Then she’ll be better. And then she can read my story!”
“Well. When you are a little bit poorly, medicine helps,” I explain, anxious not to play down the miraculous (largely psychological) healing properties of magic pink medicine, as that would really be shooting myself in the foot, “but if you are very poorly, you need a doctor, and sometimes if you are very, very poorly, the doctor needs to look after you in a hospital. So Auntie R is going to sleep there tonight, and we’ll visit her tomorrow.”
“Auntie R can read me a story tomorrow in the hospital?”
“Yes, I think so. If she’s feeling up to it.”
I read the story. It is mercifully short. As I turn out the light and adjust the door so that it lets in just enough light to keep whatever nocturnal demons Tadpole now seems to fear at bay. As I inch sideways through the gap, Tadpole raises herself upright in bed, clutching dolly to her chest.
“I feel very, very poorly. I want to go to the hospital.”
* * * * * * * * *
The next day sees us sitting around Auntie R’s bed, an assortment of Mr Men books strewn across the covers, attempting to make cheerful conversation. I attempt to block out the rasping sounds of an elderly lady being violently sick behind a flowery curtain in the corner of the ward, and manage to catch Tadpole just as she attempts to yank Auntie R’s drip tube out of a machine administering fluids. Upon closer inspection, I see that the contraption bears a sticker with the reassuring words “do not use after Aug 06”.
When a nurse comes to take a blood sample, Tadpole is fascinated.
“Look mummy! It’s a piqure just like in my doctor’s bag!” she says, not phased by the sight of dark brown blood filling up a test tube, while my sister’s complexion fades even paler, competing with the starched white of the hospital sheets.
One hour and twenty chocolate buttons later, we leave the hospital with my mother, pathetically relieved to have averted several possible Tadpole meltdowns during our visiting slot.
After bath time, I hug my daughter to me more tightly than usual. Seeing my mother’s face as she sat helpless by her youngest daughter had got me thinking about how I would feel if it was Tadpole in a hospital bed, and I was powerless to make things better.
“Mummy?” says Tadpole, running little fingers through my hair. Little fingers which then encounter a knot and tug rather painfully, causing my eyes to water.
“Can we go to the hospital now and give Auntie R some magic pink medicine?”
*calpol, or doliprane – somehow, regardless of the country, paracetamol syrup always seems to be pink and taste the same.